BY DIONNE MEEHAN
WITH input costs constantly on the rise a Donegal farmer has decided to take matters into his own hands by making the decision to run his farm 100 per cent chemical free.
Cathal Mooney, who is the founder of Heather Hill Farm operates his farm on 10 acres of land based in Dunkineely.
Running a diverse farm, Cathal produces pasture raised chicken and turkey, eggs, wild flower honey along with grass-fed lamb, beef and pigs.
Growing up on a small sheep farm, Cathal always had a great love for farming.
However, back then he said the general consensus was that you couldn’t make a living off it.
Accepting this Cathal parked his love for farming to pursue woodwork teaching. It was only when Cathal got older that he realised he wanted to produce his own food.
“In 2019 I left my full time job to start farming, a lot of people laughed at me saying I was crazy, maybe I was, but I was and still am determined to make farming a professional respectable career for myself.
“I thought to myself, a farmer is the one person we all need, we all eat three times a day every day.
“I spent many hours researching a better way and came on some incredible leaders in the regenerative farming and permaculture community.
“A seed had been planted and I was set on my journey to start something that was better for me the farmer, better for the consumer’s health and better for nature and the animal’s quality of life,” he said.
Deciding to take a chemical free approach to farming, Cathal said the two biggest problems he seen with farming around him was the reliance on synthetic inputs and the price of them.
With farmers in Donegal now having to pay around €870 per tonne of fertiliser Cathal swears that nature is quite capable of taking care of itself.
“Nature has managed to manage itself for millions of years. We call farming now ‘conventional’, meaning doing something for a long time, but when you step back and look at how our grandparents farmed that should be called conventional.
“That is how we farmed for 10 thousand years. Nature set up a system that works and our grandparents and all the people before them used that system.
“It is about farming the land to the capacity the land can produce, not trying to take more off the land than it’s capable of producing,” he said.
Instead of using chemicals, Cathal operates a holistic planned grazing system, meaning his animals are moved to fresh pastures every day.
Not only does this benefit the animals, but it helps build soil fertility and creates habitats.
He also has implemented a silvopasture system where fruit trees, nut trees and berry bushes have been planted throughout the grassland which increases biodiversity and contributes to healthy soil.